During the past week, a number of conservative pundits have bemoaned the lack of media coverage of the trial of notorious abortionist Kermit Gosnell in Philadephia. The trial has featured vivid testimony about both the brutal late term abortions Gosnell conducted and the squalid conditions in Gosnell’s clinic. The trial has received some coverage from local media outlets in Philadelphia. However, the mainstream media has only recently started to cover the issue.
Indeed, the media has a long history of downplaying misconduct within the abortion industry. There are certainly instances where crimes and misdeeds of abortion providers receive media coverage. However, typically these are reported as isolated local crime stories. Rarely do media outlets use these stories to engage policy questions involving either the legality of abortion or the regulation of abortion clinics. Recent examples of misconduct in the abortion industry provide good evidence of this.
AUL’s Expose on Planned Parenthood
In July 2011 Americans United for Life released an expose on Planned Parenthood. It provided 180 pages of evidence that Planned Parenthood violated parental-involvement laws, failed to report child sexual abuse, and cannot account for millions in government grants. Despite a Capitol Hill press conference with three U.S. Congressmen, it received superficial coverage from only a handful of mainstream media outlets. Furthermore, the fact that Planned Parenthood did not even post their response on their website is evidence of the media’s lack of interest in this story.
In February 2013 Jennifer Morbelli died in Maryland after a late term abortion performed by Leroy Carhart. Her death was covered by Newsday and to its credit, The Washington Post ran a number of articles about the story. However, all the Post’s stories ran in the metro section of the newspaper — not the main section. Morebelli’s death received little coverage elsewhere.
Interestingly, in the weeks before Morebell’s death, a documentary film about late term abortion providers was released. Carhart was one of the abortion providers featured in the documentary. This documentary received sympathetic coverage from a number of outlets including The Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Jose Mercury News.
The LiveAction Videos
Starting in 2007 LiveAction Films started to release their undercover videos exposing misconduct at Planned Parenthood facilities across the country. These videos have found Planned Parenthood employees ignoring clear evidence of statutory rape, helping minor girls circumvent parental involvement laws, and demonstrating a willingness to perform sex selective abortions. Some of these videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times online and played a large role in recent Congressional efforts to defund Planned Parenthood
However, the mainstream media has given them relatively little attention. The New York Times has run a few stories on these videos, but only those involving Planned Parenthoods in the New York metro area. There was one story about a video which involved a Planned Parenthood in the Bronx and few stories which involving a Planned Parenthood in Perth Amboy, New Jersey where a clinic manager gave advice to to a clearly underage prostitute about obtaining medical care. The Washington Post also ran a single story about the Perth Amboy video. However, other important media outlets like The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Boston Globe, and The Los Angeles Times have offered only scant coverage LiveAction videos.
Of course, the mainstream media has devoted a considerable amount of coverage to stories that reflect negatively on the pro-life movement. Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke, Senate candidate Todd Akin’s ill advised remarks about rape, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to stop giving grants to Planned Parenthood all received plenty of negative media coverage in 2012.
An even better example of the media double standard involves the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland. Savita was 17 weeks pregnant when she died and some argued that her death was caused by Ireland’s restrictions on abortion. Her death received international media attention with countless commentators calling for the legalization of abortion in Ireland. Similarly the murder of George Tiller in 2009 generated widespread media attention with many pundits scolding pro-lifers for incendiary rhetoric. Furthermore, violence against abortion providers always results in stories about the supposed extremism of pro-lifers and the need for improved security abortion clinics.
Last Friday’s online ‘tweetfest’ did succeed shaming a number of mainstream media outlets into covering the Gosnell trial. However, the pattern remained disturbingly similar. The story is being treated by most outlets as a tragic, but isolated crime story. Outside conservative, Christian, and pro-life media outlets, the Gosnell trial has generated precious little dialogue about abortion policy. Despite of graphic evidence of gross misconduct and real human suffering, media outlets are simply refusing to grapple with the important questions about the morality of abortion.